Germany's Arms Control Policy Initiatives

PRIF Study on behalf of Greenpeace Examines Success of German Engagement

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Artwork: K. Rinne/Greenpeace

On behalf of Green­peace, PRIF's research department "Inter­national Relations" has examined German arms con­trol policy over the last ten years. The study, which was pub­lished by ZEIT-Online on December 6, 2023, ana­lyzes which key arms control policy initia­tives were launched by Germany and what momen­tum they were able to develop. The spectrum of initia­tives examined ranges from the nuclear weapons to bio­logical and chemical weapons and new tech­nologies. These are analyzed against the back­drop of global political crises, such as the Covid-19 pan­demic and the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. The PRIF researchers see Ger­many's continued commit­ment to arms control as an important contri­bution to strengthening a multi­lateral world order.

For their study, the PRIF researchers deve­loped a typology that describes the commit­ment for or against arms control. On this basis, they identi­fied clear support on the German side for the develop­ment, mainte­nance and sustainable imple­mentation of arms control measures. They come to the con­clusion that Germany very often takes on the role of suppor­ter, often also acting as an initiator of arms con­trol policy measures, but rarely takes on the role of hesi­tator or even blocker, as in the case of the Treaty on the Prohi­bition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

The PRIF re­searchers note the diverse approaches of German engage­ment, but also the varying inten­sity of efforts, which often go far beyond the respec­tive agree­ment or politi­cal decla­ration of intent. Last but not least, they note ambi­valences in German policy. These can be seen, for example, in nuclear arms con­trol, where Germany is endeavoring to identify conver­gences between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear wea­pon states with regard to gradual dis­armament. On the other hand, Ger­many does not support more far-reaching approaches in the nuclear field. Such ambiva­lence can also be found in Germany's commit­ment to the inter­national Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and its arms export policy.

Ger­many is also active in many areas of arms con­trol when it comes to new techno­logies, particularly with regard to confi­dence-building measures in cyber­space or strengthening the Missile Techno­logy Control Regime (MTCR). However, Germany's commit­ment reaches its limits when its own national security and eco­nomic policy interests take prece­dence, as in the case of the regu­lation of armed drones, outer space or arti­ficial intelli­gence.

In turn, Ger­many is a leader in finan­cing conven­tional weapons destruction and clearance pro­grams, such as anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. Ger­many is one of the largest donor states in small arms and light wea­pons control and the handling of ammu­nition and launches important initia­tives of its own for tailored regional arms control. German diplo­mats regularly chair or lead working groups, for example on ammu­nition control. In this way, arms control and dis­armament can succeed in certain areas even in times of crisis. This also applies to chemical and bio­weapons control: for example, Ger­many is inten­sively supporting the insti­tutionalized approach to clarifying the use of chemi­cal weapons in Syria. The implemen­tation of the agree­ments always includes coope­ration projects with partner coun­tries, for example in the area of bio­security programs.

The global crises of recent years are also reflec­ted in Germany's commit­ment to arms control and dis­armament. In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought inter­national politics to a stand­still for some time, the deterioration of the inter­national security archi­tecture that has been ob­served in recent years directly affects arms control. Russia's annexa­tion of Crimea in 2014 and the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine since 2022 have led to a deep crisis of confi­dence and brought conven­tional arms control in Europe to a complete stand­still. This loss of trust between Russia and other, parti­cularly Western, states is also reflec­ted in other arms control regimes. Germany was able to do little to counter the termi­nation of bilateral nuclear arms con­trol treaties between the USA and Russia, as well as the OH Treaty by the USA under Trump.

The PRIF researchers name other para­meters that determine Germany's commit­ment to arms control policy, such as NATO member­ship, intensive coope­ration with France and other partners. Industry also influ­ences Germany's commit­ment. Eco­nomic policy interests have repeatedly led to arms control policy initia­tives remaining at the level of volun­tary commitments. Coope­ration with civil society actors also plays a major role in Ger­many's commit­ment to arms con­trol policy. Germany ensures that non-govern­mental organizations have access to the central nego­tiating forums and makes use of the techni­cal expertise of think tanks. Even though arms control and dis­armament are in a deep crisis in many areas, Ger­many is routinely involved in the imple­mentation of agree­ments or within the frame­work of organi­zations such as the OSCE. For example, the Struc­tured Dialogue, one of the few intact dia­log forums between the West and Russia, was able to take place be­tween the OSCE partners until 2022.

In view of the current global poli­tical situation, the study con­cludes that Germany should use its arms policy initia­tives as a means of buil­ding trust. Germany's role as a medi­ator provides a basis for renewing coope­rative rela­tions for a time after the end of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Accor­ding to the PRIF authors, flan­king the current security and de­fense policy with arms control policy initia­tives can provide impetus for the future recon­struction of coope­ration and defense relations. Germany's continued involve­ment in arms control is there­fore an important contri­bution to main­taining and strengthening the multi­lateral world order, even if this can only be advanced in small steps at first.

Find the study as a down­load in German here.

Further infor­mation and publi­cations can be found on the Green­peace website (in German).